Winter hiking adventure at Ghost Ranch, NM

Not far from Taos, NM, there is a storied and luminous land called the Piedra Lumbre, or cliffs of the shining stone. One of the most famous parts of this area is Ghost Ranch: 21,000 acres located in the basin of the Rito del Yeso surrounded by red-and-gold cliffs.

The Tewa people of San Juan Pueblo call the place T’ibuhu’u, which refers to a low, round place for a winter dance, according to Lesley Poling-Kempes in her book “Ghost Ranch.”

Poling-Kempes tells the story of the Archuleta brothers, who lived in the canyon in the late 1800s. The brothers were cattle rustlers and, in order to keep their operations secret, were believed to have killed travelers who passed through their land. “Stories began to circulate in the local communities about missing persons … about cries and whispers echoing into the night from the cliffs near Yeso Canyon. … The place was soon renamed Rancho de los Brujos – the Ranch of the Witches,” according to Poling-Kempes. Eventually, the name evolved to become Ghost Ranch.

Ghost Ranch is perhaps most well known for its association with painter Georgia O’Keeffe. She first visited in 1934 and said, “I knew the minute I got up here that this was where I would live,” according Poling-Kempes’ book. Seeking solitude and desert landscapes to paint, O’Keeffe lived here off and on from that summer, until the end of her life in 1986 at the age of 98.

One of the most dramatic trails is the one to Chimney Rock. It is a moderate three-mile round-trip hike, which begins at 6,400 feet and gains 700 feet. It follows the ridge up, and there are views ahead to the two-tower Chimney Rock formation. As you go higher, the landscape opens up to reveal the red- and yellow-tinged cliffs that surround Ghost Ranch and to Pedernal, the flat-topped mountain, 10 miles away.

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